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Paramilitary shooting will certainly draw return fire

One shot, no injuries, but a big statement. Whoever ventured to shoot Stephen 'Mackers' Matthews in east Belfast on Saturday morning certainly knew what they were getting into.

Whoever carried out what seems to have been a botched murder-bid, or whoever sent the gunman to Pansy Street, must have realised that repercussions would flow from their actions.

All seemingly remained relatively calm over the weekend in the paramilitary and drug worlds as the various 'players' digested the potential implications of a bid to take out one of the most formidable and dangerous loyalist figures in east Belfast.

Those who would consider it an advantage to kill Matthews include many from within and without the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force.

Those who claim to be in the know suggest the east Belfast paramilitary now has more clout at his disposal than the once all-powerful, all-demanding Shankill-based UVF leadership and poses a clear challenge to its reign.

It is suggested that the east Belfast UVF element is the most powerful paramilitary faction in Northern Ireland.

With a fiefdom stretching from the Lagan's edge on the Newtownards Road to Millisle, Donaghadee and beyond, it struts a swathe of territory no other loyalist element can match.

It has dwarfed the UDA in east Belfast and the Ards Peninsula to the point where seasoned paramilitaries declare a 'no contest' between the two loyalist terror groups.

"The UVF would wipe the floor with the UDA, from Dee Street to Donaghadee, if a big dispute kicked off. It would be a no-contest," is the blunt assessment of one in the know. "The UVs have the numbers and enough kit to rule the roost."

The massing of thousands of UVF members around the Knocknagoney area a number of years ago to oust a niggling LVF element underlined the numbers at Matthews' disposal.

An attempt by the UDA to kill Matthews nevertheless couldn't be dismissed, given the interminable tension between the two elements, exacerbated by recent events.

There is a younger UDA element which has ambition to prosper economically in the way deposed and murdered former leader Jim 'Doris Day' Gray did in east Belfast.

Like Gray, they regard monies obtained through the peddling of drugs as a 'legitimate' personal wealth accumulator.

The management in the form of the UDA's so-called 'brigadier' in east Belfast is, it is said, opposed to such trafficking and those involved in the activity presumably don't tell him their business. He might reflect on their comparative economic wellbeing and wonder if it could really be secured beyond good fortune or hard grind in a legitimate activity.

The UVF was instrumental in ousting members of a family heavily involved in drug-trafficking in the Holywood area more than a year ago and the word on the street today is that the organisation remains opposed to the trading of illegal narcotics in the area and beyond.

But who knows whether every enlisted member of Matthews' UVF crew is opposed to the drugs trade?

Whether Saturday's episode was an attempt to erase Matthews from the equation in east Belfast, or the structure in the UVF, is unclear.

Was a drug-dealer behind the attempt to dilute or delete Matthews's influence in the area?

Or did another paramilitary plant the idea in some drug-dealer's head, promising huge returns if Matthews was killed? Loyalists discount republican involvement, because they don't expect that he would be alive had dissidents been involved.

That leaves a festering situation east of the river where a powerful paramilitary has been offended and will probably order retribution.